BBC Says Newsnight Editor Stepping Aside on Savile Probe

The British Broadcasting Corp. said the editor of its “Newsnight” program is stepping aside hours before another of its shows will claim that he was pressured to cancel a segment on child abuse by TV star Jimmy Savile.

Peter Rippon’s move takes place with immediate effect while the broadcaster investigates how executives handled the scandal, the BBC said in a statement today. Rippon’s explanation on his blog for dropping the program was “inaccurate or incomplete in some respects,” it said.

“Panorama,” which is scheduled to be aired at 10:35 p.m. London time, will say that BBC Director General George Entwistle knew about the Savile segment before it was canceled, the broadcaster said today. “Panorama” will also report that “Newsnight” journalist Liz MacKean wrote to a friend that Rippon was feeling under pressure and he said he couldn’t “go to the wall on this one” if “the bosses aren’t happy.”

Savile, who was knighted for charity work in 1990, fronted programs including “Jim’ll Fix It,” which granted children wishes such as meeting celebrities. He has been accused of sexually abusing dozens of children over the 30 years he worked at the broadcaster. London police have opened a probe into the abuse of as many as 200 victims by people, including Savile, using claims dating from 1959 to 2006.

Parliamentary Probe

“We’re all appalled by the allegations of what Jimmy Savile did, and they seem to get worse by the day,” Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters in London today. “The developments today are concerning because the BBC has effectively changed its story about why it dropped the ‘Newsnight’ program about Jimmy Savile.”

Helen Boaden, director of news, told Entwistle in December that the revelations would clash with planned tributes to Savile, who died two months earlier at the age of 84, according to “Panorama.” While the tributes were aired, the “Newsnight” segment was canceled.

Entwistle was managing the broadcaster’s television channels at the time and became director general this year. He will give testimony to a U.K. parliamentary committee investigating the scandal tomorrow. The previous director general, Mark Thompson, is scheduled to start as New York Times Co. (NYT)’s chief executive officer next month.

Thompson and Entwistle had “no involvement in the investigation or the subsequent decision to drop it,” the broadcaster has said.

Abusive Conduct

The BBC today corrected Rippon’s previous explanation on a blog for why he pursued and then dropped the investigation into Savile.

While Rippon had said that “Newsnight” had no evidence against the BBC, there were some allegations of abusive conduct on the broadcaster’s premises, the company said. Staff at the Duncroft school for girls, where Savile volunteered, may have also known about abuse, contrary to Rippon’s earlier statement, the BBC said.

Rippon had also said there was no new evidence that would have helped law enforcement investigate. The BBC now says that police may not have been aware of all of the allegations.

MacKean also said that statements by the BBC about the nature of the “Newsnight” story were “very misleading,” according to “Panorama.”

When Entwistle wrote to all staff this month, he said that the “Newsnight” investigation focused on the the enquiry of U.K. police into Savile, according to the program. “Newsnight” journalist Meirion Jones, who also worked on the “Panorama” probe, replied to Entwistle in an e-mail, saying that the focus of the investigation had been on whether Savile was a paedophile and not the work of the police, the BBC said.

Internal Probes

The broadcaster said “Panorama” asked Entwistle, Boaden, Deputy Director of News Stephen Mitchell and Director of Editorial Policy and Standards David Jordan for interviews and hasn’t received a response yet. A BBC spokeswoman had no immediate comment when contacted by Bloomberg News.

The BBC last week appointed former Court of Appeal judge Janet Smith and BBC journalist Nick Pollard to head two internal investigations.

Rob Wilson, a member of Parliament, sent a letter to Entwistle last week, saying the executive had failed to respond to his requests for information about the BBC’s decision in December 2011 to cancel the show about the claims against Savile. Wilson asked Entwistle to confirm the existence of any “managed risk lists” circulated at the BBC and whether the list described risks associated with the Savile segment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amy Thomson in London at athomson6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kenneth Wong at kwong11@bloomberg.net

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